The most complained about roads in Greater Manchester for potholes and damaged surfaces have been named in a new study which reveals a surge in reports made to councils from angry motorists.
The Federation of Small Businesses – (FSB) – claimed its research comprising the last financial year using requests to councils under the Freedom of Information Act also revealed that a number of councils failed to spend their full allocated budget for road repairs, despite rising numbers of complaints about the state of roads.
In Bolton alone, said the FSB, the underspend was £2.35m, as claims to councils for damage allegedly caused to vehicles rose since 2019 in Bolton and the majority of Greater Manchester’s nine other local authority areas.
Bolton council, in response, said it couldn’t ‘reconcile the figures quoted with actual or projected spend on carriageway maintenance’ in the town. “The council does not have an underspend in its road repair budget, all funds are already allocated to ongoing or future repair projects,” said a spokesman.
“Bolton Council recently allocated £12m to a borough-wide residential road maintenance project, which exceeded its targets by delivering repairs on an additional 100 plus roads. We know what an important issue pothole repair is for residents and local businesses.”
It’s understood the budgetary figures reported to the FSB by councils may not be strictly in-sync with the financial year, with funding from a town hall’s budget often also committed to future projects.
The federation said its study found a huge rise in the number of complaints recorded over potholes specifically since the Covid pandemic. Some councils, it added, were ‘struggling to carry out repair work that will be leading to growing backlogs and increased complaints’.
The FSB said its research was carried out as part of its annual survey looking at the state of local roads in Greater Manchester over the last financial year through FOI requests submitted to town halls.
The results indicated 33,787 pothole and highway defect complaints were received by Greater Manchester councils in 2021/22. That’s compared to 26,186 the last time the FSB conducted its survey in 2018/19 – a rise of 7,601.
Then, more potholes and surface damage were complained about in Manchester and Oldham than anywhere else. Studies were paused by the FSB over the pandemic.
The latest study – published today – showed Stockport Council had the highest number of complaints about potholed roads, with 8,770 complaints – equivalent to around 24 a day – over the last financial year. The council with the fewest complaints was Tameside, with 1,651 for the year. Tameside and Manchester councils both spent significantly more than budgeted for, the figures show.
In Manchester, there were 248 legal claims for compensation lodged with the council – the highest in Greater Manchester – followed by Bury with 200. Bury council, added the survey, also underspent on its road repair budget by £241,848 – or 15.9 per cent. Salford, Wigan and Stockport councils are also said to have underspent compared to their budgets.
There were a total of 1,301 legal claims recorded by all 10 Greater Manchester councils combined over the last financial year, which is down from the number recorded when the FSB last completed a survey.
Roads maintained by a council that received the highest number of complaints, regarding any and all types of damage, were:
Bolton: Armadale Road.
Bury: Pilsworth Road.
Rochdale: Langley Lane.
Oldham: Not disclosed.
Tameside: Broadoak Road.
Stockport: Marple Road.
Manchester: Not disclosed.
Salford: Not disclosed.
Wigan: Slag Lane.
Robert Downes, the FSB’s development manager for Greater Manchester, said: “Our latest research shows complaints over potholes are up, and the number of claims for damage to vehicles continues to climb higher in most council areas even though road traffic is down significantly with the pandemic triggering a work from home culture.
“We do this analysis not because we’re having a pop at councils, but because we know the vast majority of businesses in Greater Manchester rely on the road network more than any other type of transport infrastructure for the smooth running of their operations.
“Roads are vital for local economies to attract business investment, for firms to trade, get customers through their doors, in to town centres, to get deliveries out on time and stock in, staff to get to and from work; we need a resilient road network and I think most road users would agree that’s not the case.
“We know transport infrastructure underpins jobs and growth, and so we need councils and the other maintaining bodies like National Highways to keep on top of the road network. When roads are left to crumble, small job become big jobs all too often requiring major roadworks and road closures. That slows everything down, so more traffic jams, and as we know, more pollution.
“Also consider the mayor’s huge push to get people on bikes. Unsafe roads littered with potholes will do little to tempt many on to two wheels.
“Ultimately councils need more cash from Government to get ahead on road repairs and maintenance, but perhaps more troubling is the evidence some councils might be struggling to spend their allocated budget despite the growing problem? Is that a manpower issue, or something else?
“I would urge all road users to report potholes immediately. If councils don’t know about a problem, they can’t fix it.”
The FSB said councils supplied it the information and figures revealed through the Freedom of Information Act.
The Manchester Evening News has contacted Bury, Bolton, Salford, Wigan, Stockport and Manchester councils for comment.
A Bolton Council spokesman said: “Bolton Council will always address safety issues within our Code of Practice guidelines and we have a low number of at-fault claims. The actual condition of Bolton’s highways, as independently surveyed, is well above the national average for good condition. With limited budgets, we will continue to target maintenance work to where it is most needed and where it provides the best value for residents.”
Julie Middlehurst, assistant director for infrastructure at Wigan, said: “Wigan Council follows the Department for Transport (DfT) guidance in the management and maintenance of our highways infrastructure. This includes prioritising the available funding into planned surfacing and preventative maintenance treatments that both help to prevent and reduce the number of highway defects occurring in the first place.
“This approach has resulted in the annual DfT road condition surveys showing Wigan Borough’s roads as some of the best both regionally and nationally, benefiting our businesses and residents and the 2021/22 financial year saw a decrease in the number of overall highway defects being identified for repair. Where defects have been identified, we remain committed to acting promptly to repair these and are grateful for all reports we receive.”
In Salford, coun Mike McCusker said: “Over the last 10 years Salford has invested heavily in repairing and resurfacing roads and continues to work tirelessly to do so, along with investing millions in building new cycle lanes on key routes to meet increased demand for cycling. This research shows Salford received the fewest legal claims in Greater Manchester and has the lowest underspend which reflects our commitment to maintaining and improving our roads despite significant budget challenges.”
Coun Grace Baynham, Cabinet Member for Highways, Parks and Leisure Services at Stockport council, said: “The council continues to invest in maintaining its roads in the borough which are generally in an excellent condition and it will carry on this important work moving forwards. As part of our 10-year Highways Investment Programme, which began in 2014, the council has carried out a range of repairs from patching to resurfacing.
“This work has provided a long-term solution to the deterioration of our highway network and has resulted in vast improvements for all of our local residents and road users. In addition, the council has a first-class system in place making it easy for our residents to report any issues they come across whilst on their journey through Stockport.
“The figure quoted by the FSB has been provided by the council and includes all service requests, including complaints, which have been received via various sources. Service requests are when the council is notified of an issue on the highway and they are different than complaints. Looking at the data further, although the number of times that potholes have been reported is high, the number of compensation claims are not because some potholes may have been reported by more than one resident.”
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